- Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 and Psalm 22:23-31
- Romans 4:13-25
- Mark 8:31-38
The Revised Common Lectionary draws on some key strands in the biblical picture of Abraham; drawing together the covenant renewal story of Genesis 17 (during which both Abram and Sarai receive their more familiar names of Abraham and Sarah) with Paul's eulogy to Abraham's faith as the quality that earned him the blessing of becoming the father of many nations. With some careful editing, the RCL lectionary also skirts around the Genesis requirement that male genital circumcision be a perpetual sign of those (males) who belong to the covenant.
The promise of progeny was one of three major blessings of the covenant which the biblical authors claim God established with their ancestors. The other two blessings were the land and a special relationship with God. All three blessings—when projected back onto the mythical ancestors of Israel—have the most desirable consequence that those telling the story then become both the embodiment and the beneficiaries of the covenant blessings: they are the promised descendants of Abraham, they have possession of the land, and they enjoy an exclusive relationship with Yahweh.
All of this, in the RCL lections, sit a little awkwardly with the passage from Mark 8:31-38 on which the notes below will concentrate.
The way of the cross: Disciples of a crucified mentor
This relatively short passage from Mark 8 seems to combine traditional items from various settings with "predictions" created by Mark for the sake of his narrative. We have six different complexes from Crossan's historical Jesus inventory represented in these 8 verses (see below for details).
The passage set for this Sunday begins the second great narrative section of Mark's account of Jesus. As we have seen on other occasions, the Gospel of Mark can be outlined more or less as follows:
- 1:1-3:35 Beginnings: Who is this person?
- 4:1-34 Jesus as parable teacher
- 4:35-8:26 Seeing dimly: Someone like Moses or Elijah?
- 8:27-30 Turning Point: You are the Christ!
- 8:31-10:52 Seeing more clearly: A suffering Messiah
- 11:1-12:44 Confrontation with Jerusalem authorities
- 13:1-37 Jesus as apocalyptic prophet
- 14:1-15:47 Passion narrative
- 16:1-8 The empty tomb
If this suggestion is accepted in broad terms, then we can see that this week's gospel plays a critical part in Mark's presentation of Jesus.
Like the blind man at Bethsaida who can only see with blurred vision (8:22-26), the interpretation of Jesus as a miracle-worker like Moses or Elijah is an imperfect insight into his meaning. Even the confession by Peter, which acts something like a hinge in Mark's narrative, does not suffice. For Mark, Jesus is a Messiah of a particular kind: a suffering Messiah, not a military leader. Through the remainder of chapters 8 through 10, Mark will portray Jesus as repeatedly predicting his own fate. The segment closes with the healing of another blind man, Bartimaeus outside Jericho. Unlike the disciples, Bartimaeus sees the true meaning of Jesus and "follows him in the way" (Mark 10:52) that leads directly into Jerusalem and Jesus' final confrontation with the Powers That Be.
Central to this week's passage, and to the whole section in 8:31-10:52, is the theme of taking up one's cross; first by Jesus, and then by anyone who would be his disciple. In the view of many scholars, such language reflects the faith of the post-Easter Christian community where the cross had become a symbol for Christ's death. In that case we would be dealing with Mark's reflection's on discipleship, rather than a memory of Jesus' own teachings.
However, John Dominic Crossan has observed that while such an explanation would be especially persuasive if it were found only in Mark 8:34, the tradition is also found in both Gospel of Thomas 55:2b and the Sayings Gospel Q at Luke 14:27 = Matthew 10:38. Since neither Thomas nor Q show any great interest in the historical crucifixion of Jesus, this is a good reason to pause before discarding the tradition. Furthermore, as Crossan notes, there is also the following text from non-Christian classical sources:
If you want to be crucified, just wait. The cross will come.
If it seems reasonable to comply, and the circumstances are right,then it's to be carried through, and your integrity maintained. (Epictetus, Discourses 2.2.20)
It is undoubtedly correct that Mark was writing to influence his readers' understanding of discipleship rather than to capture surviving echoes of Jesus' own ideas. Even so, it is possible that Mark may have received an older tradition in which Jesus was remembered as using the metaphor of crucifixion as a symbol for both his own destiny and the demands of discipleship. While it seems likely that Mark has crafted the series of passion/resurrection predictions in the light of the actual course of events, it is possible that he began with an authentic tradition about Jesus himself using crucifixion as a symbol for faithfulness.
In any case, since Jesus' death on the cross, taking up one's cross has become a distinctive symbol for Christian living.
In keeping with the criterion of coherence, the three sayings in vss 35-37—063 Saving Ones Life, 241 What Profit, and 242 Lifes Price—can be understood as fitting with other sayings that are attributed to Jesus on different grounds. See especially: 098 The Pearl, 071 The Fishnet (GThom version), 107 The Lost Sheep, 108 The Treasure and 464 The Lost Coin. In each case there is a passionate enthusiasm for the kingdom, such that nothing else can compare or take its place.
The term "son of man" occurs twice in this selection. The expression derives from common Hebrew syntax, where "son of" is a way of saying "belonging to the category of ...". The most common example would be bene-Yisrael (sons of Israel, or Israelites).
In the OT we find the expression used with the natural sense of "human being" (= son of Adam, someone belonging to the category of Adam and his descendants):
What are humans that you should regard them,
and sons of Adam that you should attend them?" (Psalm 8:3)
How much less a human, who is a maggot,
and a son of Adam, who is a worm?" (Job 25:6)
He (God) said to me, O mortal ("son of Adam") ... (Ezek 2:1 and numerous other times in Ezekiel)
In Daniel 7 the term is used to distinguish the anthropoid figure representing the empire of God's holy ones from the monstrous animals that represented each of a series of evil empires that went before it:
As I watched in the night visions,
I saw one like a human being ("son of Adam")that shall never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
coming with the clouds of heaven.
And he came to the Ancient One
and was presented before him.
To him was given dominion
and glory and kingship,
that all peoples, nations and languages
should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away,
and his kingship is one
Not surprisingly, such a passage gave fresh impetus to the term "son of man" in Jewish (and later early Christian) circles interested in apocalyptic writings. Rather than being a synonym for human being, it became a special religious title: "the Human One" or "The Man." In texts such as 1 Enoch we find the term used for a heavenly savior figure.
In addition to all these variations, the term could also be used as a polite way of referring to oneself. This is analogous to "Yours truly" in some contemporary usage.
As a result, in the gospels we find the term used in at least two distinct senses:
- As a self-reference by Jesus ("The son of Adam has nowhere to lay his head ...").
- As a reference to the heavenly figure who will come at the End time.
We seem to have examples of both uses in this week's passage.
- 240 Passion Resurrection Prophecy - (1a) Mark 8:31-33 = Matt 16:2l-23 = Luke 9:22; (1b) Mark 9:9b = Matt 17:9b; (1c) Mark 9:12b = Matt 17:12b; (1d) Mark 9:30-32= Matt 17:22-23 = Luke 9:43b-45; (1e) Luke 17:25; (1f) Mark 10:32-34 = Matt 20:17-19 = Luke 18:31-34; (1g) Matt 26:1-2; (1h) Mark 14:21 = Matt 26:24 = Luke 22:22; (1i) Mark 14:41= Matt 26:45b; (1j) Luke 24:7
- 044 Carrying Ones Cross - (1) GThom. 55:2b; (2) 1Q: Luke 14:27 = Matt 10:38; (3) Mark 8:34 = Matt 16:24 = Luke 9:23
- 063 Saving Ones Life - (1) 1Q: Luke 17:33 = Matt 10:39; (2) Mark 8:35 = Matt 16:25 = Luke 9:24; (3) John 12:25-26
- 241 What Profit - (1a) Mark 8:36 = Matt 16:26a = Luke 9:25; (1b) 2 Clem. 6:2
- 242 Lifes Price - (1) Mark 8:37 = Matt 16:26b
- 028 Before the Angels - (1a) 2Q: Luke 12:8-9 = Matt 10:32-33; (1b) 2 Clem. 3:2 [from Matt 10:32]; (2) Mark 8:38 = Matt 16:27 = Luke 9:26; (3) Rev 3:5; (4) 2 Tim 2:12b
Liturgies and Prayers
For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt's web site
Other recommended sites include:
See the following sites for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre: